Herat railway operational?

I recently had an enquiry about the status of the project to build a railway from Iran to Herat – the e-mail came from from a novelist undertaking background research, which was a bit unusual, but potentially interesting.

The existing branch line to serve mines near Sangan is being extended from Khaf, crossing the Afghan border near Islam Qala to run to Herat. There have been various news reports about progress, although I have not yet found any conclusive evidence of work being underway, for instance any photographs showing earthworks.

As far as I am aware no opening has been announced, and given the strategic significance of this scheme I was reasonably sure that the Iranian authorities would have publicised it if it had been completed and opened. 

However, Thomas Hammes, a senior military fellow at the US National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies, mentions the Herat railway as being functional in an NPR programme.

Can anyone confirm (or deny) this? Does anyone have any firm evidence of the line been complete (or even underway)?

Military Thinkers Answer Listeners’ Questions

What about Iran? Iran is in the formula. Its border with Afghanistan is rife with drug traffic. I understand from news sources in the U.S. that I read or listen to that almost all the drugs go across Iran before being distributed to Europe and the U.S.

Sally Williams
Berkeley, Calif.

THOMAS HAMMES: Sally, you are correct. Iran is in the formula and must be part of the solution. During our initial invasion in 2001, the Iranians provided assistance against the Taliban. Since then, our relationship with Iran has deteriorated and their willingness to cooperate has, too. However, they have assisted the development of western Afghanistan.

The only functioning railroad in Afghanistan comes in from Iran to Herat. They have improved the roads, access to markets and provided reconstruction aid. They feel these actions are in their best interest. At the same time, they feel supporting some of the anti-government groups is also in their best interest.
Source: Military Thinkers Answer Listeners’ Questions, NPR, 2009-10-11

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